History

Our Founder, Strachan Donnelley

The Center for Humans & Nature was founded in 2003 by Strachan Donnelley, a philosopher and civic leader who saw a fundamental need for an organization dedicated to the exploration of humans and nature relationships. 

Strachan Donnelley

“I have lately been thinking about our world and its evolutionary life as one vast, temporally deep frog pond. We humans consider ourselves at the center of all things significant and meaningful, right in the middle of the frog pond. We need ‘bullfrog philosophers’…individuals who move us humans off-center, to find a seemly and right lily pad upon which to live and croak, morally moved by a central concern for the overall and indefinite well-being of the frog pond as a whole.”

Donnelley’s formative early years hunting wild ducks on Illinois marshes were as important to his remarkable life and career as was his professional work in philosophy and bioethics. Donnelley called the philosophers who played a central role in the evolution of his thinking “Magic Mountains,” while “Living Waters” represented his lived experience immersed in the natural world. A self-described “fly-fishing philosopher,” Donnelley founded the Center for Humans & Nature with the intention of bringing deep and diverse thinkers around the same table. His belief was that the lively exchange of a wide range of ideas and perspectives might lead to truly big ideas, the ideas we need to navigate the waters of our time.

Strachan Donnelley’s book, Frog Pond Philosophy, was published posthumously in 2018. This collection of essays was co-edited by Ceara Donnelley and Bruce Jennings. The vivid and personal essays, rooted in Donnelley’s everyday experiences, offer a distinctive perspective on big questions of life, meaning, and responsibility.

“The totality of life is what interested my dad. He wanted to live it, first and foremost; then try to understand it; and then work to use that full life and its contemplation to better this earthly world, its humans and nature alike. Throughout this ambitious endeavor, my dad remained ever humble—he was equally convinced of the need for deep thinking as he was of the fundamental limits of the human capacity to understand the natural (including human) world and its workings. A favorite line of my dad’s was ‘Ignoramus: we are ignorant.’ But that didn’t stop him from always trying to learn and understand more about the world in which we live, and nor should it stop us.”

In addition to Donnelley’s writings, the Center for Humans & Nature is his living legacy, continuing to offer a place for asking life’s big questions—through the work of Humans & Nature Press and Humans & Nature Farm.

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